Presenteeism: A Much Greater Problem Than Absenteeism?

Presenteeism: A Much Greater Problem Than Absenteeism?

“80% of success in life can be attributed to simply showing up.” – Woody Allen

While this does seem like attractive advice, a growing body of research suggests that it might be a tad too optimistic – at least in the workplace!

Presenteeism is a very real problem and seems to be much costlier than its productivity-reducing counterpart, absenteeism.

But what exactly is presenteeism?

Presenteeism occurs when ongoing physical or mental conditions prevent employees from being fully productive at work.

They could be ailments such as simple allergies or asthma, to more severe ones like arthritis, or the occasional migraines, to more serious anxiety issues, and even depression etc.

These are all examples that an employee might not be mentally or physically fit, but is still reporting to work… leading to an under-productive workforce.

Another aspect could be plain and simple dissatisfaction with the work at hand. This might hamper productivity, while the employee still tries to ‘soldier on’ with the tasks.

Presenteeism Costlier Than Absenteeisnm

Researchers say that presenteeism can cut individual productivity by one-third or more.

Having full attendance at the workplace might not necessarily be a relevant metric of a company’s success, as presenteeism is not very apparent to spot.

You know when someone doesn’t show up for work, but you often can’t tell when or how much, illness or a mental condition hinders someone’s performance.

What are some of the signs of presenteeism and how can you beat it at your workplace? Let’s find out.

Presenteeism: Common Signs And How to Prevent it?

The assumption that underlines presenteeism is that an employee is willing to work, but is prevented from giving their best shot due to physical and mental illness.

Do note… ‘Presenteeism’ is not about shirking responsibilities or just disengagement at work.

Some of the common predictors of presenteeism are as follows:

1. Dissatisfaction With Remuneration

Check your payroll policies. Are the salaries at par with the industry standards?

Employees with lower hourly wages or who work only on a part-time basis are more prone to presenteeism.

They have a fear of missing out on working days or calling in sick even when they are feeling under the weather, as they would be unable to make ends meet on a smaller paycheque.

2. Structural Changes In The Organisation

If your company is going through downsizing or restructuring, chances are your employees will be worried about proving their worth and value to the management.

Presenteeism will be rampant in such cases as working in fear of losing their job will hinder their performance largely.

3. Unfavourable Workplace Culture

Your workplace culture also hugely affects employee behaviour. Taking time off from work, even when there is a genuine need to do so, might seem taboo to your workforce.

Check whether the employees feel free to take leaves when they are sick, or they fall into a guilt-trip the moment they return back to the office after taking a personal day off. Such instances will result in a large amount of presenteeism and employees will think twice before being absent from work.

Unfavourable Work Culture

4. Family Pressures

Mostly both the genders contribute equally to the household income in today’s time, which means there is hardly anyone to look after the children at home when they are sick.

Parenthood is also a contributing factor in presenteeism as parents conserve sick days so that they can stay home when their kids are unwell.

As a result, parents are back at work majority of the times feeling sick themselves, having caught the same illness from their child.

How to Prevent Presenteeism?

The first step to be taken in this direction is to inform your team members that you want them to give their best efforts when they are at work. On the days when they are unable to perform well due to physical or mental illness, it is best to stay home and come back to work feeling better.

Once this is communicated clearly, here are few steps that you should take to weed out presenteeism from your workplace.

1. Flexible Work Schedules

Introduce flexitime, telecommuting and remote working as options that will alleviate work stress and anxiety that the employees might otherwise feel.

This will also help people stay home with a sick kid and yet work or even people who cannot afford to miss a day of work.

Researchers have found that less time is lost from people staying home than from them showing up but not performing at full capacity.

2. Make Changes To The Work Culture

Senior managers need to encourage a positive culture that encourages good attendance when people are well but supports people taking the necessary time off when they have a genuine illness. Organisations should support an effective return to work practice.

Line managers should be trained well about the negative effects of presenteeism as they are best people to spot its signs. They should remain alert to employees who are unwell but still attending work.

3. Improve Employee Morale

Make an effort to boost employee morale. According to a survey, morale had a significant impact on the incidence of presenteeism.

It was found that companies with low morale had more ill workers showing up for work. 52% or organisations with poor morale reported presenteeism was a problem.

The best way to improve morale is to provide some degree of flexibility in employees’ work arrangements. Employers who do so help employees meet the pressing demands of both work and family, and aid in their achievement of a healthy work-life balance.


4. Improve Workload Management

High workload demands can cause employees to avoid taking time off when they need it because they are worried about deadlines or overburdening co-workers in their absence.

The ways in which line managers facilitate the management of employees’ workloads, and how they can communicate and provide support play a big role in the amount of work-related stress people experience.

It is crucial your managers are aware of organisational and managerial causes of work-related stress and ill health and have the soft skills to promote positive working practice and wellbeing.

5. Cognitive Assessment And Training

Introduce cognitive assessment and training, which is being used by forward-thinking companies who are embracing their potential to help identify and tackle the early signs of mental ill health, while at the same time improving performance.

Computer-assisted cognitive training and assessment is very flexible and can help companies tackle presenteeism in a lot of ways.

These tools can assess cognition (the way our mind operates) in a 15-minute online test. An indication that someone is struggling in one or more cognitive areas provides a chance for them and their employer to act early and explore what the underlying issue might be and if necessary to seek professional help in a timely manner.

Presenteeism costs are a real and potentially significant drain on a company’s financial well-being. Employers need to make a conscious effort to develop a workplace with healthy and productive workers.


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